Reflecting Our Multicultural World: The Importance of Inclusive Toys and Books
Written by: Caitlyn Chun
All children benefit from learning experiences that are inclusive of people and cultures that reflect the rich diversity of our world. Understanding and appreciating our differences and similarities is an important skill for all! For children of color in particular, research demonstrates that celebrating and embracing their own heritage is a powerful source of resilience in the face of prejudice and injustice. When toys and media depict only white characters and stories, children of color may receive the message that stories about white characters are preferable to stories about characters of their own race. They may even sense that they need to change themselves to be accepted. White children can receive the same message — they may begin to believe that stories with characters of different races, ethnicities, backgrounds and heritages, don’t belong in their world. It is important to give your child the tools and space they need for understanding complex ideas about identity, diversity, and justice. The toybox and the bookshelf are great starting points to help your child understand and appreciate multiculturalism in their world.
Learning with Toys
Play is an essential aspect of development for many reasons, and the positive effects of play are enhanced when playtime is inclusive. First, it helps children build social skills and confidence in interacting with peers — these are life skills that are essential for success in school and beyond. Second, it allows children to digest complex experiences: during play, particularly pretend play, children spend time practicing taking others’ perspectives, processing their emotions, and developing self-regulation skills. During playtime, children are free to experiment with their views of the world, break them down, and then build new worlds to try again. It is critical to provide play opportunities that affirm children’s experience of a diverse and multicultural world to help them process, understand, and appreciate the ways that people are different and similar.
Giving your child opportunities to represent diversity in their play can be as simple as providing crayons or markers that represent the wide range of human skin tones. There are even coloring books with the purpose of recognizing diversity! Other inclusive materials for pretend play can include play-food such as a multicultural play food set, this taco and tortilla set, or this Hawaiian food set. Diverse dolls and figurines such as My Family Builders, Hape Wooden Doll Families, Friends with Diverse Abilities, and Heart for Hearts Girls can also be used in pretend play. You may even consider playing a face memory matching game
Learning through Stories
Books and stories provide our children with information and insight. They can also provide an important space for explicitly tackling difficult topics such as race, equity, and social justice. Books like Pat Thomas’ The Skin I’m In: A First Look at Racism (for pre-k – 3rd grade) and Julius Lester’s Let’s Talk About Race (for pre-k – 5th grade) use plain language to encourage discussion about race without shying away from this complex topic. Informational books such as these can help young readers develop awareness about injustices in the world.
Stories convey messages about what is important to us and they help children learn problem-solving strategies. For example, readers who dive into Patricia Polacco’s Mr. Lincoln’s Way (for 1st – 5th grade) will learn about strategies for responding to race-based prejudice with patience. This story also emphasizes that people are capable of changing harmful and prejudiced views about others.
In addition to tackling heavier topics such as racism and injustice, it is also important to share stories in which diverse characters experience joy and affirmation. Stories such as these help readers — especially diverse readers — develop their sense of self. With this sense of identity, they are able to build an awareness of their own history and culture in addition to an awareness of others’ histories and cultures. Books have the power to broaden children’s’ knowledge and awareness of other cultures, and children whose cultures are represented can experience the joy of having their experiences, histories, and knowledge bases affirmed and celebrated.
In David Robertson’s When We Were Alone (for k – 3rd grade), a young girl of Cree heritage learns about residential schools and how her Grandmother held onto Cree language and culture in spite of others trying to strip it away. Stories such as this can help young children learn that their cultural and racial identities should be celebrated as sources of strength. Natasha Anastasia Tarpley’s I Love My Hair (for babies and up to age 3) tells the story of Keyana, an African-American girl who discovers the beauty and magic of her hair. The Proudest Blue: A Story of Hijab and Family by Ibtihaj Muhammad and S.K. Ali (for pre-k – 3rd grade) follows the bond between two sisters as the eldest finds pride and strength in wearing the hijab in the face of hurtful words. In Joanna Ho’s Eyes That Kiss in the Corners (for pre-k – 3rd grade), the narrator, a young Asian-American girl, becomes empowered to love her crescent-shaped eyes. Each of these books features characters that are strong because of their appreciation for their unique identities, histories and traditions, and sharing stories such as these can help your child celebrate what makes each of us different.
Social Justice Books’ Guide for Selecting Anti-Bias Children’s Books
Colours of Us 50 Best Multicultural Picture Books of 2019
Amazon Best Sellers in Children’s Multicultural Story Books
Bookriot’s 30 Children’s Books About Diversity that Celebrate Our Differences
Edutopia’s 22 Diverse Book Choices for All Grade Levels
Book Recommendations by Topic
These recommendations are a fantastic starting point for diving into multicultural stories. Check out some of the guides above to explore more titles!
|Topic||Title||Author||Age or Grade Range|
|Race and Racism||Let’s Talk About Race||Julius Lester||Pre-k – 5th|
|Race and Racism||Mr. Lincoln’s Way||Patricia Polacco||1st – 5th|
|Race and Racism||The Skin I’m In: A First Look at Racism||Pat Thomas||Pre-k – 3rd|
|African American Stories||Full, Full, Full of Love||Trish Cooke||Ages 2 – 5|
|African American Stories||I Am Enough||Grace Byers||Pre-k – 3rd|
|African American Stories||I Love My Hair||Natasha Anastasia Tarpley||Ages Baby – 3|
|Alaska Native Stories||Sweetest Kulu||Celina Kalluk||Ages Baby -3|
|Alaska Native Stories||A Walk on the Shoreline||Rebecca Hainnu||K – 2nd|
|Alaska Native Stories||A Walk on the Tundra||Rebecca Hainnu||3rd – 5th|
|Asian American Stories||Eyes that Kiss in the Corners||Joanna Ho||Pre-k – 3rd|
|Chinese American Stories||The Ugly Vegetables||Grace Lin||Pre-k – 3rd|
|Indian American Stories||The Many Colors of Harpreet Singh||Supriya Kelkar||Pre-k – 2nd|
|Indian American Stories||Same, Same but Different||Jenny Sue Kostecki-Shaw||Pre-k – 2nd|
|Korean American Stories||Bee-bim Bop!||Linda Sue Park||Pre-k -3rd|
|Muslim American Stories||Meet Yasmin!||Saadia Faruqi||K – 2nd|
|Muslim American Stories||The Proudest Blue||Ibtihaj Muhammad and S.K. Ali||Pre-k – 3rd|
|Native American Stories||My Heart Fills with Happiness||Monique Gray Smith||Ages Baby – 2|
|Native American Stories||SkySisters||Jan Bourdeau Waboose||K – 3rd|
|Native American Stories||When We Were Alone||David Robertson||K – 3rd|
|Vietnamese American Stories||A Different Pond||Bao Phi||K – 4th|